By the Book


September 2015

Article Summary for Lecture #6 – Wajenberg

“A Cataloger’s View of Authorship” by Arnold S. Wajenberg

Wajenberg’s piece provides an interesting look at the difficulties of determining authorship for various resources produced in a variety of situations. Quite early on in cataloging history, defining exactly what constitutes authorship became problematic. Cutter offered a definition of author which would “in the narrower sense [to apply to]…the person who writes a book; in a wider sense it may be applied to him who is the cause of the book’s existence by putting together the writings of several authors (usually called the editor, more properly called the collector). Bodies of men (societies, cities, legislative bodies, countries) are to be considered the authors of their memoirs, transactions, journals, debates, reports, etc (22).” This definition was not found to be a perfect fit, however, and so many cataloging theorists continued to explore the topic. Wajenberg notes Lubetzky’s simpler definition – anyone who “produces a work” (22) – but shows that “produces” can be a highly ambiguous word. Instead, the author found Carpenter’s investigation, with its conclusion that authorship can never be defined from the production of the work, as more realistic. From this the article turned to look at special problems with determining authorship, particularly to do with “diffuse” or “multiple” authorship. These include translations (how could an author be responsible for a version of his work in a language which did not exist when he wrote?), motion pictures (a tremendous number of people are involved in the “production”), and printed material (such as technical or scientific works produced by a number of collaborators). In conjunction, he presents the interesting problem of Racter, the computer program which generated the book The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed. This unique origin creates problems for catalogers trying to assign access points. In view of these problems, Wajenberg points out that catalogers should be interested in the bibliographic universe, nothing else, and proposes his own definition of authorship: “an author of a work is a person identified as an author in items containing the work, and/or in secondary literature that mentions the work” (24). The article proceeds to discuss the implications of this definition. Although the definition is not meant to exclude corporate bodies, Wajenberg has never found them to be useful or important to catalog users, and so admits that he would just as well leave them out. Finally, he finishes with example of problematic cataloging, in which the attributed author of an English drama is revised between editions of a reference work. Wajenberg asserts that the concientious cataloger will change or make notes to that effect while cataloging the new edition of the material.

I found this piece to be interestingly written, clear, and concise. Also appealing is the fact that it was written by an author with proven expertise in his field. I do wonder, however, if there is a similar piece that is somewhat more recent? Although many of the questions touched upon are the same, it is of considerable age for a reference article.

Article Summary for Lecture #5 – Schottlaender

“Why Metadata? Why Me? Why Now?”

In this article, Schottlaender sets out to provide an overview of metadata’s current professional environment, and from that proceed to examine reasons for catalogers to become actively involved in metadata work and organization. He opens his text with basic definitions. Two are definitions of metadata: an informal one from Clifford Lynch, which describes metadata as “a cloud of collateral information around a data object,” and a more formal description assembled by the Task Force on Metadata, which finds its subject to be “structured, encoded data that describe characteristics of information-bearing entities to aid in the identification, discovery, assessment, and management of the described entities” (20). Also provided is a definition from Murtha Baca for schema, “a set of rules for encoding information that supports specific communities of users” (21). From these definitions, Schottlaender notes the different types of schema (encoding, metadata, and architectural) and goes on to provide a rather hurried survey of these schema which currently help to regulate the metadata universe. Some example coding schemas mentioned and discussed briefly are MaRC, HTML, XML, and SGML. The article then passes on to metadata schema, noting that the number of types of metadata has expanded dramatically in recent years, now including metadata concerned with description, administration, technology, security, personal information, preservation, and more. Schottlaender chooses to focus on descriptive metadata, and briefly discusses ISBD, AACR2, PCC, and the Dublin Core. He mentions two non-descriptive systems, the Platform for Internet Content Selectivity (PICS), and the Admin Core (A’Core), and passes on to identifiers, which he describes as very concentrated descriptive metadata types. Examples of these include ISBN and ISSN, as well as URIs. All of these, the author notes, tend to focus on syntax, not semantics, and it is up to cataloging codes to decide what attributes an object actually has, and how to record and describe those attributes. From here, the article moves to glance briefly at three architectural schema. These include Interoperability of Data in E-Commerce Systems (INDECS), which integrates standards from many groups concerned with copyright, Resource Description Framework (RDF), which handles structured metadata, and the Warwick Framework, which was built to handle many different types of metadata. In closing, the article points out the shared concerns of metadata and cataloging, notably providing access, and the benefits that both areas could reap from collaboration.

The definitions which Schottlaender’s article provides are useful, and do much to highlight aspects of his subject matter that are often overlooked or not fully appreciated. More importantly, his comments on the similarities and shared values between cataloging and metadata are compelling. They make a strong case for catalogers taking an active role in working with and shaping metadata organization methods. The whirlwind tour of modern systems in between these two sections, however, detracts from the overall quality of the article. It is too quick and full of imposing acronyms to convey pertinent information to a reader truly ignorant of the subject, and too shallow to satisfy a professional conversant in the field.

Article Summary for Lecture #4 – Carlyle

“Understanding FRBR as a Conceptual Model: FRBR and the Bibliographic Universe”

“Understanding FRBR as a Conceptual Model: FRBR and the Bibliographic Universe,” by Allison Carlyle, offers a refreshingly lucid explanation of the FRBR conceptual model and its historical context in cataloging theory. Carlyle begins with an exploration of the definition and function of models. Although models can be used to represent most anything, they are most often used to make abstractions easier to understand. This is done by operationalizing the abstraction – making it somehow possible to count or measure it. The example Carlyle gives is measuring love by the number of times a couple kisses, a flawed system, but better than nothing. From this she moves to look at the FRBR concepts of work and expression as abstractions which, like love, can be made more understandable by modeling. Although these are sometimes hard to grasp, the concepts nonetheless serve to make a user’s search easier, as a patron generally wants the work (e.g. Heaney’s Beowulf translation) and not necessarily a specific item (the hardcover edition with a bite mark on the right corner). The article continues with an explanation of FRBR as an entity-relationship model (ER), a special structure of conceptual model. ERs can only contain entities, attributes, and relationships. Entities (physical things) can have relationships between them, and both the entities and relationships can have attributes (characteristic qualities). Despite the utility of the model, Carlyle does warn that ER models only reflect the qualities they are concerned with, and do not create a whole picture. This means that an unlimited number of ER models could be made of the same thing. For this reason, a model should not be judged by whether it is “right” or “wrong,” but whether it fulfills the function it was created to do. From this discussion, the article continues with an examination of the historical models from which FRBR has evolved. The simplest and earliest is the One-Entity Model, a simple list of the library’s holdings. Here the only entity recognized is the single item. Slightly more complex is the Two-Entity Model, which recognizes both the item and manifestation levels, and can serve as a finding aid as well as a list of holdings. This developed when libraries began to have more than one copy of a material. Next (naturally) is the Three-Entity Model, which captured the abstract idea of the overarching work, and finally the Four-Entity Model, (of which FRBR is a representative), which includes the concept of an expression. Carlyle provides pictures of catalog searches, illustrating how higher entity models shorten and more neatly combine search results, making for a better search experience. She ends with a discussion of the implementation details facing catalogers beginning to work with FRBR, and a reiterated statement that FRBR is the natural successor to these previous entity models.

Having wandered through a number of acrimonious AACR2 vs. RDA articles, which exude much bitterness and precious little information, I enjoyed Carlyle’s writing a great deal. She proceeds slowly and carefully through complicated issues, explaining them without bias. It is so nice to have an article specifically written for people coming to the subject without the foggiest idea of what is going on.

Article Summary for Lecture #3 – Russell

“Revisiting Cataloging in Medieval Libraries”

Beth M. Russell’s succinct but compelling article offers an interesting look at the diverse catalogs of medieval libraries. Throughout the piece, Russell uses a variety of examples to argue that cataloging is not an entirely modern development, nor is it a field which has developed dramatically in complexity over time. Rather, many medieval library catalogers faced similar problems as modern catalogers do today, trying to facilitate local needs for access while still maintaining order. Despite the fact that many ancient catalogs have not been preserved or recorded, Russell uses small indications and synthesis of sources to follow the thought processes and values of the sometimes highly idiosyncratic medieval catalogers. Some of these catalogers used the simplest of possibilities, the inventory catalog, essentially a list of holdings. Russell insists that these were not primitive proto-catalogs, but rather a very basic way of keeping track of things. Another of the most basic of sorting methods mentioned is that of physical separation – illustrated by a monastery keeping the books used in services in a different place from the rest of the collection. Sometimes basic location descriptions (what chest a book was in or where it was on the shelf) were employed. Interestingly, Russell speculates that chained books were added to these location listings not just to guard against theft, but also the make sure that the community could access them. In addition to location, some catalogs included physical descriptions. These could be fairly useless, if entertaining (one book is recorded as “big and pretty,” a description I can fully sympathize with), but some were quite rigorous, providing not only the size but also the current condition of the volume.   The article touches also upon a very rare example of a union list, comprising a fair number of monastically held books listed by title. medieval example. Russell also brushes past the tradition idea of medieval organization around the seven subjects of study, noting that such a set up would have been inadequate for the larger libraries of the time. She shows how during medieval times libraries began to organize alphabetically, by author, and by subject, sometimes based on which attribute was most known or sought by the patrons of the library. She concludes the article with a discussion of the difficulties brought to catalogers by composite books, showing that the techniques of medieval catalogers in dealing with this issue were as sophisticated and adhered to their users’ needs as those of today.

Although Russell’s transtions are sometimes rough, jumping disjointedly from one thought to the next with little logical sequence, her article overall is highly insightful and interesting. Of especial value is her ability to offer challenging alternative views drawn from evidence traditionally interpreted one way.

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